YouTube has been making headlines for all of the wrong reasons lately. Media companies and record labels feel that the video giant is trampling on their protected works, and they have a point. What did you get yourself into, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)?

Thankfully, the search giant's $1.65 billion acquisition is making headway in redeeming itself as a white-hat player, though you might not see it right away. If you hit the site earlier this week to find clips of Sunday night's Oscars, uploads from the awards show filled the site's list of most-watched videos. But every clip linked only to a stern copyright warning from The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

There are two sides to look at this. On the one hand, YouTube was active in policing its site for infringing content. On the other hand, the clips were still streamed tens of thousands of times before they were taken down (hence their ranking on the "most viewed" list to begin with).

YouTube has been promising copyright identification enhancements for months. Some media heavies like Viacom (NYSE:VIA) have given up on waiting for a solution, setting up camp elsewhere. In the meantime, YouTube is counting on a novel approach that I haven't seen the media pick up on yet: It wants you to help it stay on the straight and narrow.

Time magazine actually got it right
February may be a short month, but it has been a productive one behind the scenes. YouTube has quietly rolled out a pair of innovations called AudioSwap and Streams that will help the site's battle against content heavies.

The media giants don't know it. You probably don't know it. Maybe even YouTube doesn't know it. These features are buried deep in the site. You actually have to go all the way to the bottom of the YouTube landing page, where a small TestTube link directs you to the latest interactive playthings brewing in the YouTube test lab.

AudioSwap is exactly what it sounds like. Google is in the process of securing songs from indie labels that are legitimately licensed for user uploads. If you upload a video that offers little in spoken content, or is backed by a copyrighted song, you can now replace the audio track with one of the dozens of available songs on AudioSwap.

It probably won't be a popular feature. The track selection is weak and naturally obscure. If users want to upload prom clips with Green Day's Good Riddance in the background, she won't be swayed by going legit when music selection is at stake.

The site is blowing a golden opportunity here by not reaching out to its artist community. I was looking around for the tab to submit my band's music -- I believe that any exposure is good exposure -- yet there was none to be found. Pity. Opening up the submissions to unsigned artists would be a great way to get some grassroots loving flowing back in YouTube's direction.

Would it solve the dilemma of obscure AudioSwap content? Of course not, but at least it would fill out the menu of choices, while giving bands the opportunity to rally their fans around the site as a creative promotional tool.

California streaming
The TestTube lab has a bigger potential winner with Streams, YouTube's attempt to create a sticky community experience. YouTube has been letting viewers comment on videos since its modest beginnings two years ago. Sites like Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO), News Corp.'s (NYSE:NWS) MySpace Videos, and Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) new Soapbox now follow suit.

Streams takes the interaction to the next level, creating chat rooms around a channel of videos. I found the interface a little buggy when kicking the tires yesterday, but the potential is huge. If YouTube is able to create a unique user experience with homebrewed videos, it can rely less on the established, copyrighted properties of angry studios.

The studios will come around, eventually realizing that the opportunities for exposure and monetization are too great at YouTube to ignore. It won't be too different from how the music labels went from loathing Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) to embracing it, once digital music became so lucrative.

Until then, Google's TestTube reveals how the site plans to grow in the absence of major content distribution deals. Banking on musicians who want their songs slapped onto amateur videos through AudioSwap, and creating sticky chatrooms through Streams, is the way of the future.

More eye-opening developments at YouTube:

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a TestTube baby, baby. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.